Chicanery in 'Better Call Saul'
Saul is a master of deceit and darkly creative genius.
Posted August 5, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- The protagonist of the show 'Better Call Saul' is a creatively deceitful and morally dubious criminal lawyer.
- Research shows creativity often promotes dishonesty by increasing the ability to generate self-serving justifications for unethical behavior.
- It is also likely that the protagonist’s personality contributes to his malevolently creative nature.
This post was written by Sarah Rezaei, Senior Research Assistant at the Department of Psychology, Monk Prayogshala.
Warning: This post contains spoilers.
Since its inception as a prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul has managed to cement its place as one of television’s most well-crafted and compelling shows. Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, what makes the show an incredible masterclass in chicanery is how Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) executes his intricate scams throughout the series. Jimmy’s descent into Saul, Albuquerque’s small-time attorney for low-income clients, is a darkly funny and tragic story layered with instances where Jimmy’s creativity and ingenuity unfold through his morally questionable ways.
Jimmy is a creative con master with some incredibly innovative bluffs and cheats up his sleeves. We witness this in the episode of "Fifi," with one of his most meticulous, strenuous, and ingenious scams in the entire series. Jimmy snags and tampers with his brother Chuck’s files from Mesa Verde (client) in an attempt to prevent HHM (law firm) from stealing Mesa Verde from Kim (Jimmy’s girlfriend). With the help of a pen cutter and glue, Jimmy doctors the files by swapping the last two numbers of Mesa Verde’s address on every single document in his brother’s file. The aim was to present Chuck as incompetent and careless (evident from the grave mistake with the address), ultimately rendering him unfit to be Mesa Verde’s lawyer.
It is known that creativity promotes dishonesty by “increasing individuals’ ability to generate reasons to justify their unethical behavior.” The dynamics of Chuck and Jimmy’s relationship are interesting, to say the least. Much of the drama surrounding their relationship stems from Jimmy wanting to turn his life around as a lawyer and Chuck sabotaging Jimmy’s attempts in doing so. Chuck simply does not trust Jimmy and his potential or promises to achieve that given his history of conning people as "Slippin’ Jimmy"—the nickname he earned running petty scams in his youth. Thus, Chuck’s selfishness and his inability to set aside his ego to give Jimmy a real chance at success was Jimmy’s justification for his elaborate plans to damage Chuck’s reputation. Often, such self-serving justification for ethically questionable behavior is enough to convince the individual that their behavior is, in fact, understandable and justified.
This is a recurring theme in the series; we see Jimmy committing frauds, sabotaging individuals, and running scams not quite for the fun of it, unlike his earlier life as Slippin’ Jimmy. His actions were largely geared towards avenging something.
For instance, the latest season documents Jimmy and Kim teaming up and going after Howard Hamlin (Chuck’s law partner and the CEO of HHM) for reasons that involved more than just financial gain: they wanted to smear his name and frame him for “something unforgivable.” This is mainly because Howard, with his successful career and swanky law firm, reminded Jimmy of everything he despised, including how Chuck treated him. To achieve their revenge, Jimmy and Kim plan out the longest con, which involves framing Howard as a manic cocaine addict and turns out brilliantly until we see the consequences of the two’s actions in "Plan and Execution"—one of the most shocking episodes of the series.
Jimmy’s blatant inability to experience remorse for his actions—costing both Chuck and Howard their careers and lives—and a complete disregard for care resonates with the uncaring and callous aspects that are characteristics of dark personalities, which have consistently been associated with malevolent creativity. Moreover, research shows how sinning (e.g., anger and envy) is better understood by those with dark personality traits, including spitefulness and sadism, which explains most of Jimmy’s actions. His silly and sunny personality, then, is nothing more than a mask that hides his true self—full of spite and harboring dark potentialities.
In addition to his impeccable ability to thread a convincing story, another perspective of Jimmy’s ability to chalk out ingenuine and creative scams is his expertise in the area. Jimmy’s transition to the famous “Saul Goodman” or the “friend of the cartel,” delivering criminals and drug lords from facing legal consequences is an incredible marriage of Slippin’ Jimmy and Jimmy McGill, Esq. We know that for one to fully realize an original idea, the individual needs to possess some level of knowledge and expertise in a given area to refine and generate the idea. The more structured and well-organized the knowledge is, the more it assists the individual in generating and refining creative ideas. With a law degree, Slippin’ Jimmy is invincible. He knows the law and is able to detect and exploit its loopholes and ambiguities to get around it.
The sleazy, quick-witted, and ruthless lawyer Saul Goodman we know from Breaking Bad was once a fighting soul looking to be respected and loved by his brother Chuck and the community. It is likely that all the trash-talking and the undermining he received from his brother contributed to him becoming the man he now is. In any case, Jimmy McGill is the poster boy for malevolent creativity, a crafty man continuing to choose the moral low ground to achieve his ends, even if it entails hurting those around him. Regardless, there is no doubt that Jimmy is quite possibly the master of chicanery and the life of the Breaking Bad universe.